The reality show

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The reality show

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Schizophrenics used to see demons and spirits. Now they talk about actors and hidden cameras – and make a lot of sense

Mike Jay is a UK author and cultural historian. His latest book is The Influencing Machine (2012), now out in the US under the title A Visionary Madness.

3300 3,300 words
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Clinical psychiatry papers rarely make much of a splash in the wider media, but it seems appropriate that a paper entitled ‘The Truman Show Delusion: Psychosis in the Global Village’, published in the May 2012 issue of Cognitive Neuropsychiatry, should have caused a global sensation. Its authors, the brothers Joel and Ian Gold, presented a striking series of cases in which individuals had become convinced that they were secretly being filmed for a reality TV show.

In one case, the subject travelled to New York, demanding to see the ‘director’ of the film of his life, and wishing to check whether the World Trade Centre had been destroyed in reality or merely in the movie that was being assembled for his benefit. In another, a journalist who had been hospitalised during a manic episode became convinced that the medical scenario was fake and that he would be awarded a prize for covering the story once the truth was revealed. Another subject was actually working on a reality TV series but came to believe that his fellow crew members were secretly filming him, and was constantly expecting the This-Is-Your-Life moment when the cameras would flip and reveal that he was the true star of the show.

Few commentators were able to resist the idea that these cases — all diagnosed with schizophrenia or bipolar disorder, and treated with antipsychotic medication — were in some sense the tip of the iceberg, exposing a pathology in our culture as a whole. They were taken as extreme examples of a wider modern malaise: an obsession with celebrity turning us all into narcissistic stars of our own lives, or a media-saturated culture warping our sense of reality and blurring the line between fact and fiction. They seemed to capture the zeitgeist perfectly: cautionary tales for an age in which our experience of reality is manicured and customised in subtle and insidious ways, and everything from our junk mail to our online searches discreetly encourages us in the assumption that we are the centre of the universe.

But part of the reason that the Truman Show delusion seems so uncannily in tune with the times is that Hollywood blockbusters now regularly present narratives that, until recently, were confined to psychiatrists’ case notes and the clinical literature on paranoid psychosis. Popular culture hums with stories about technology that secretly observes and controls our thoughts, or in which reality is simulated with virtual constructs or implanted memories, and where the truth can be glimpsed only in distorted dream sequences or chance moments when the mask slips. A couple of decades ago, such beliefs would mark out fictional characters as crazy, more often than not homicidal maniacs. Today, they are more likely to identify a protagonist who, like Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank, genuinely has stumbled onto a carefully orchestrated secret of which those around him are blandly unaware. These stories obviously resonate with our technology-saturated modernity. What’s less clear is why they so readily adopt a perspective that was, until recently, a hallmark of radical estrangement from reality. Does this suggest that media technologies are making us all paranoid? Or that paranoid delusions suddenly make more sense than they used to?

The first person to examine the curiously symbiotic relationship between new technologies and the symptoms of psychosis was Victor Tausk, an early disciple of Sigmund Freud. In 1919, he published a paper on a phenomenon he called ‘the influencing machine’. Tausk had noticed that it was common for patients with the recently coined diagnosis of schizophrenia to be convinced that their minds and bodies were being controlled by advanced technologies invisible to everyone but them. These ‘influencing machines’ were often elaborately conceived and predicated on the new devices that were transforming modern life. Patients reported that they were receiving messages transmitted by hidden batteries, coils and electrical apparatus; voices in their heads were relayed by advanced forms of telephone or phonograph, and visual hallucinations by the covert operation of ‘a magic lantern or cinematograph’. Tausk’s most detailed case study was of a patient named ‘Natalija A’, who believed that her thoughts were being controlled and her body manipulated by an electrical apparatus secretly operated by doctors in Berlin. The device was shaped like her own body, its stomach a velvet-lined lid that could be opened to reveal batteries corresponding to her internal organs.

Although these beliefs were wildly delusional, Tausk detected a method in their madness: a reflection of the dreams and nightmares of a rapidly evolving world. Electric dynamos were flooding Europe’s cities with power and light, their branching networks echoing the filigree structures seen in laboratory slides of the human nervous system. New discoveries such as X-rays and radio were exposing hitherto invisible worlds and mysterious powers that were daily discussed in popular science journals, extrapolated in pulp fiction magazines and claimed by spiritualists as evidence for the ‘other side’. But all this novelty was not, in Tausk’s view, creating new forms of mental illness. Rather, modern developments were providing his patients with a new language to describe their condition.

At the core of schizophrenia, he argued, was a ‘loss of ego-boundaries’ that made it impossible for subjects to impose their will on reality, or to form a coherent idea of the self. Without a will of their own, it seemed to them that the thoughts and words of others were being forced into their heads and issued from their mouths, and their bodies were manipulated like puppets, subjected to tortures or arranged in mysterious postures. These experiences made no rational sense, but those who suffered them were nevertheless subject to what Tausk called ‘the need for causality that is inherent in man’. They felt themselves at the mercy of malign external forces, and their unconscious minds fashioned an explanation from the material to hand, often with striking ingenuity. Unable to impose meaning on the world, they became empty vessels for the cultural artefacts and assumptions that swirled around them. By the early 20th century, many found themselves gripped by the conviction that some hidden operator was tormenting them with advanced technology.

A desert nomad is more likely to believe that he is being buried alive in sand by a djinn, and an urban American that he has been implanted with a microchip and is being monitored by the CIA

Tausk’s theory was radical in its implication that the utterances of psychosis were not random gibberish but a bricolage, often artfully constructed, of collective beliefs and preoccupations. Throughout history up to this point, the explanatory frame for such experiences had been essentially religious: they were seen as possession by evil spirits, divine visitations, witchcraft, or snares of the devil. In the modern age, these beliefs remained common, but alternative explanations were now available. The hallucinations experienced by psychotic patients, Tausk observed, are not typically three-dimensional objects but projections ‘seen on a single plane, on walls or windowpanes’. The new technology of cinema replicated this sensation precisely and was in many respects a rational explanation of it: one that ‘does not reveal any error of judgment beyond the fact of its non-existence’.

In their instinctive grasp of technology’s implicit powers and threats, influencing machines can be convincingly futuristic and even astonishingly prescient. The very first recorded case, from 1810, was a Bedlam inmate named James Tilly Matthews who drew exquisite technical drawings of the machine that was controlling his mind. The ‘Air Loom’, as he called it, used the advanced science of his day — artificial gases and mesmeric rays — to direct invisible currents into his brain, where a magnet had been implanted to receive them. Matthews’s world of electrically charged beams and currents, sheer lunacy to his contemporaries, is now part of our cultural furniture. A quick internet search reveals dozens of online communities devoted to discussing magnetic brain implants, both real and imagined.

The Gold brothers’ interpretation of the Truman Show delusion runs along similar lines. It might appear to be a new phenomenon that has emerged in response to our hypermodern media culture, but is in fact a familiar condition given a modern makeover. They make a primary distinction between the content of delusions, which is spectacularly varied and imaginative, and the basic forms of delusion, which they characterise as ‘both universal and rather small in number’.

Persecutory delusions, for example, can be found throughout history and across cultures; but within this category a desert nomad is more likely to believe that he is being buried alive in sand by a djinn, and an urban American that he has been implanted with a microchip and is being monitored by the CIA. ‘For an illness that is often characterised as a break with reality,’ they observe, ‘psychosis keeps remarkably up to date.’ Rather than being estranged from the culture around them, psychotic subjects can be seen as consumed by it: unable to establish the boundaries of the self, they are at the mercy of their often heightened sensitivity to social threats.

In this interpretation, the Truman Show delusion is a contemporary expression of a common form of delusion: the grandiose. Those experiencing the onset of psychosis often become convinced that the world has undergone a subtle shift, placing them at centre-stage in a drama of universal proportions. Everything is suddenly pregnant with meaning, every tiny detail charged with personal significance. The people around you are often complicit: playing pre-assigned roles, testing you or preparing you for an imminent moment of revelation. Such experiences have typically been interpreted as a divine visitation, a magical transformation or an initiation into a higher level of reality. It is easy to imagine how, if they descended on us without warning today, we might jump to the conclusion that the explanation was some contrivance of TV or social media: that, for some deliberately concealed reason, the attention of the world had suddenly focused on us, and an invisible public was watching with fascination to see how we would respond. The Truman Show delusion, then, needn’t imply that reality TV is either a cause or a symptom of mental illness; it might simply be that the pervasive presence of reality TV in our culture offers a plausible explanation for otherwise inexplicable sensations and events.

Here was what Hollywood executives always assumed audiences hated: filmmakers playing smart with their audiences, pulling the rug from under their feet

Although the formation of delusions is unconscious and often a response to profound trauma, the need to construct plausible scenarios gives it many commonalities with the process of writing fiction. On rare occasions the two overlap. In 1954, the English novelist Evelyn Waugh suffered a psychotic episode during which he thought he was persecuted by a cast of disembodied voices who were discussing his personality defects and spreading malicious rumours about him. He became convinced that the voices were being orchestrated by the producers of a recent BBC radio interview, whose questions he had found impertinent; he explained their ability to follow him wherever he went by invoking some hidden technology along the lines of a radionics ‘black box’, an enthusiasm of one of his neighbours. His delusions became increasingly florid but, as Waugh described it later, ‘it was not in the least like losing one’s reason… I was rationalising all the time, it was simply one’s reason working hard on the wrong premises.’

Waugh turned the experience into a brilliant comic novel, The Ordeal of Gilbert Pinfold (1957). Its protagonist is a pompous but brittle writer in late middle age, whose paranoia about the modern world is fed by an escalating regime of liqueurs and sedatives until it erupts in full-blown persecution mania (a familiar companion for Waugh, who abbreviated it discreetly to ‘pm’ in letters to his wife). Although the novel smoothes the edges of Waugh’s bizarre associations and winks knowingly at Pinfold’s surreal predicament, the fictionalisation blurs into the narrative that emerged during Waugh’s psychosis: even for his close friends, it was impossible to tell exactly where the first ended and the second began.

By the time that Gilbert Pinfold was published, narratives of paranoia and psychosis were starting to migrate from psychiatry into popular culture, and first-person memoirs of mental illness were appearing as mass-market paperbacks. The memoir Operators and Things: The Inner Life of a Schizophrenic (1958), written under the pseudonym of Barbara O’Brien, told the remarkable story of a young woman pursued across America on Greyhound buses by a shadowy gang of ‘operators’ with a mind-controlling ‘stroboscope’, but was presented and packaged like a sci-fi thriller. Conversely, thrillers were incorporating plot lines that assumed the reality of mind-controlling technologies. Richard Condon’s best-selling novel The Manchurian Candidate (1959) turned on the premise that a hypnotised subject might be programmed to respond unconsciously to pre-arranged cues. In the book’s memorable and, with hindsight, eerily prescient climax, an unwitting agent is triggered to assassinate the US president. Condon’s deadpan satire was informed by Cold War anxieties about brainwashing and communist infiltration, but it also drew upon recent popular exposés of the ‘subliminal’ techniques of advertising, such as The Hidden Persuaders (1958) by Vance Packard. It was expertly pitched into the disputed territory of psychology’s black arts: a paranoid tale for paranoid times, which still informs a thriving netherworld of internet-driven conspiracy theories.

Perhaps the emergence of the influencing machine into modern fiction can be most clearly traced through the career and afterlife of Philip K Dick, who combined the profession of prolific pulp novelist with an intense hypochondriacal fascination with psychotic disorders. He diagnosed himself as both paranoid and schizophrenic at various times, and included schizophrenic characters in his fiction; many of his novels and short stories have a closer kinship with memoirs of mental illness than with the robots-and-spaceships tales of his sci-fi contemporaries. They play out restless iterations of the idea that consensus reality is in fact the construct of some form of influencing machine: a simulation designed to test our behaviour, a set of memories generated artificially to maintain us in our daily routines, a consumer fantasy sold to us by power-hungry corporations or obligingly furnished by mind-reading extraterrestrials. Dick’s novel Time Out of Joint came out the same year as The Manchurian Candidate and was a clear ancestor of The Truman Show. Its protagonist, Ragle Gumm, inhabits a bland suburban world that is gradually revealed to be a military simulation; the sole purpose of the set-up is to keep Gumm happily playing what he believes to be a battleship puzzle in the daily paper, while in reality his solutions are directing missile strikes in a war of which he is kept unaware.

Throughout his lifetime, Dick remained a cult author. His devoted but limited fan base prized his work for its uncompromising weirdness, never imagining that it might be assimilated into the popular mainstream. Indeed, after a series of visionary episodes in 1974, which he elaborated into a complex personal theology, Dick’s work became still more hermetic, remote even to his core sci-fi readership. He died in 1982, just as his novel Do Androids Dream of Electric Sheep? (1968) was being adapted into Ridley Scott’s Bladerunner, its storyline soft-pedalled by a studio that believed audiences would reject the climactic revelation that its protagonist was himself an android. Subsequent film adaptations of Dick’s work, such as Paul Verhoeven’s Total Recall (1990), also toned down the radical reality switches of the source, limiting them to an opening set-up before settling into a final reel of uncomplicated action.

In 1999, however, The Matrix struck boxoffice gold with a script that presented a classic Dickian influencing machine in stark and undiluted form. An inquisitive hacker stumbles onto the ultimate secret: the so-called ‘real world’ is a simulation, concealing a reality in which all humanity has been enslaved and harvested by machines for centuries. Buttressed by reams of dialogue exploring the scenario’s existential implications, here was precisely what Hollywood executives previously assumed audiences hated: filmmakers playing smart with their audiences, pulling the narrative rug from under their feet, even toying with the fourth wall of the drama. And yet it was a sensational success, resonating far beyond the multiplex and inserting its memes deep into a wider culture that was now hosted by the internet.

As the American screenwriter William Goldman observed in his memoir Adventures in the Screen Trade (1983), in the movie business, nobody knows anything. It might be that a similarly bold metafiction could have been successful years earlier, but it feels more likely that the cultural impact of The Matrix reflected the ubiquity that interactive and digital media had achieved by the end of the 20th century. This was the moment at which the networked society reached critical mass: the futuristic ideas that, a decade before, were the preserve of a vanguard who read William Gibson’s cyberspace novels or followed the bleeding-edge speculations of the cyberculture magazine Mondo 2000 now became part of the texture of daily life for a global and digital generation. The headspinning pretzel logic that had confined Philip K Dick’s appeal to the cult fringes a generation earlier was now accessible to a mass audience. Suddenly, there was a public appetite for convoluted allegories that dissolved the boundaries between the virtual and the real.

When James Tilly Matthews drew the invisible beams and rays of the Air Loom in his Bedlam cell, he was describing a world that existed only in his head. But his world is now ours: we can no longer count all the invisible rays, beams and signals that are passing through our bodies at any moment. Victor Tausk argued that the influencing machine emerged from a confusion between the outside world and private mental events, a confusion resolved when the patient invented an external cause to make sense of his thoughts, dreams and hallucinations. But the modern word of television and computers, the virtual and the interactive, blurs traditional distinctions between perception and reality.

When we watch live sporting events on giant public screens or follow breaking news stories in our living rooms, we are only receiving flickering images, yet our hearts beat in synchrony with millions of unseen others. We Skype with two-dimensional facsimiles of our friends, and model idealised versions of ourselves for our social profiles. Avatars and aliases allow us to commune at once intimately and anonymously. Multiplayer games and online worlds allow us to create customised realities as all-embracing as The Truman Show. Leaks and exposés continually undermine our assumptions about what we are revealing and to whom, how far our actions are being monitored and our thoughts being transmitted. We manipulate our identities and are manipulated by unknown others. We cannot reliably distinguish the real from the fake, or the private from the public.

In the 21st century, the influencing machine has escaped from the shuttered wards of the mental hospital to become a distinctive myth for our times. It is compelling not because we all have schizophrenia, but because reality has become a grey scale between the external world and our imaginations. The world is now mediated in part by technologies that fabricate it and partly by our own minds, whose pattern-recognition routines work ceaselessly to stitch digital illusions into the private cinema of our consciousness. The classical myths of metamorphosis explored the boundaries between humanity and nature and our relationship to the animals and the gods. Likewise, the fantastical technologies that were once the hallmarks of insanity enable us to articulate the possibilities, threats and limits of the tools that are extending our minds into unfamiliar dimensions, both seductive and terrifying.

Read more essays on film & television, psychiatry & psychotherapy, stories & literature and surveillance


  • Ian ‘Cat’ Vincent

    Excellent piece, and I look forward to reading the full book on the subject.

    Worth noting that THE MATRIX was not the only film of the time that explored that "your reality isn't *real*" theme - it was a veritable Steam Engine Time for such movies: DARK CITY, PLEASANTVILLE, BEING JOHN MALKOVICH, THE THIRTEENTH FLOOR and ExISTENz all cover this theme in various ways. It's also a theme in Grant Morrison's comic series of the time THE INVISIBLES that such films may appear to carry messages to those who have peeped behind the curtain, as exemplified by the character Mason Lang.

    I've written about this crossover at in THE MASON LANG FILM CLUB.

  • 1bar1

    When I was lad working in psych the Kennedys were prominent in delusions.
    And do you recall that in Victorian-era newspaper cartooning madmen were depicted as Napoleon, as his memory was fresh and no doubt figured in the delusions of the day.

  • 1bar1

    Something often overlooked is the utility of delusions - wouldn't life be more, well, interesting, if one were personally of interest to great forces of good or ill, instead of being merely a drab wacko indistinguishable from millions of others?

    • Jonathan Led Larsen

      That could be true in some cases - but it runs the risk of conflating 'interesting' with 'absolutely horrifying'.

  • Archies_Boy

    It isn't just schizophrenics who hallucinate; it's everyone. Read "Hallucinations" by Oliver Sacks:

  • Starlarvae

    So, instead of actually spying on Americans en masse, the NSA is merely leaking storeies about widespread surveillance and eavesdropping to drive us crazy.

    • Dexter Durden

      I already told you in therapy, the NSA is something you made up because of your delusions of persecution. Please call your mother, she's worried about you since you ran away.

      • Starlarvae

        Ding. Ding. Ding. You qualify for a shiny new troll certificate.

  • john visher

    We are entering a new era of story telling. Since our machines do our labor, we have an abundance of free time. In earlier times, stories communicated knowledge and wisdom to others, one, or a few persons at a time. Now stories are broadcast globally, and their primary effect is to mislead and oppress the world's people. In the global village buzzing with bull sh*t, we all are made idiots. Not to worry though, our era will vanish when the oil does.

  • James Strathearn

    It would be nice if this page clarified that even while psychosis may seem like narcissism in cases, its not. It does make clear that psychosis is a "loss of ego boundaries" and such delusions are products of trying to explain seemingly unexplainable scenarios, and thats precisely is why it's not narcissism. Narcissism is the ego projecting without discernment between reality and self, while psychosis is not having an ego anymore that's capable of even projecting in any relevant way. Recovery is different as well, psychotics recover from systematically breaking down and rewriting faulty belief structures that led to psychosis once ego strength is restored, while narcissism is recovered from by building a healthy ego capable of discerning faulty projections.

    • thincks

      narcissists mean and well aware of reality!

      Pathological narcissism should not be
      construed as a form of psychosis because:

      The narcissists is usually
      fully aware of the difference between true and false, real and
      make-belief, the invented and the extant, right and wrong. The narcissist
      consciously chooses to adopt one version of the events, an aggrandising
      narrative, a fairy-tale existence, a "what-if" counterfactual
      life. He is emotionally invested in his personal myth. The narcissist
      feels better as fiction than as fact – but he never loses sight of the
      fact that it is all just fiction.

      Throughout, the narcissist
      is in full control of his faculties, cognisant of his choices, and
      goal-orientated. His behaviour is intentional and directional. He is a
      manipulator and his delusions are in the service of his stratagems. Hence
      his chameleon-like ability to change guises, his conduct, and his
      convictions on a dime.

      Narcissistic delusions
      rarely persist in the face of blanket opposition and reams of evidence to the
      contrary. The narcissist usually tries to convert his social milieu to his
      point of view. He attempts to condition his nearest and dearest to
      positively reinforce his delusional False Self. But, if he fails, he
      modifies his profile on the fly. He "plays it by ear". His False
      Self is extemporaneous – a perpetual work of art, permanently
      reconstructed in a reiterative process designed around intricate and
      complex feedback loops.

    • thincks

      the short version:

      There is a qualitative difference between benign (though well-entrenched) self-deception or even malignant con-artistry – and "losing it".

  • Derek Roche

    ‘I am nothing and I should be everything,’ a young Karl Marx had written, defining the revolutionary impulse. ‘The spectacle,’ as Debord developed the concept through the 1950s and 60s, was at once the kidnapping of that impulse and its prison. It was a wonderful prison, where all of life was staged as a permanent show - a show, Debord wrote, where ‘everything that was directly lived has moved away into a representation,’ a beautiful work of art. The only problem was absolute: ‘in the case where the self is merely represented and ideally presented,’ ran a quote from Hegel on the first page . . . ‘there it is not actual: where it is by proxy, it is not.’

    Greil Marcus: Lipstick Traces: A Secret History of the Twentieth Century

  • George McKee

    Of course this is also the stuff of literature, ranging from the Shakespearean actor hallucination of "all the world's a stage, and all the men and women merely players" to John Fowles' bestselling 1966 novel "The Magus" to the cultish Illuminatus writings of Robert Anton Wison that place these beliefs as merely an intermediate stage on the path towards true enlightement. Unreality as a phase of mental development that the mentally ill become trapped in while others progress beyond it is also part of Zen Buddhist teachings, summarized by the lyrics of Donovan's song "first there is a mountain, then there is no mountain, then there is."

  • Chloe Faulkner

    A reality-show director convinced of actually being the star of his own series - that itself sounds like the ideal plot for a film.

    • jesus

      evokes mulholland drive somewhat

  • beachcomber

    Fascinating! Wonderful article...

  • Eppoukoji

    Sigh! The East has taught that "reality" is an illusion for several millennia. Read "The language of Zen." It is cheap and addresses these matters in an appropriately sober manner.

    • hp b

      When the bull charged I reminded myself this isn't real.
      Wow did it hurt and I'm betting, God forbid, it's really gonna hurt next time too.

  • tjod

    I couldn't help but think of The Hitchhiker's Guide to the Galaxy, where our Earth is just a computer overseen by mice - at least we perceive their projection into our dimensionality as mice. Maybe not as heady as the literature discussed here, but the very fact that it make light of these ideas gives it a weight of its own.

    • exGF

      Yes and the author killed himself!!! He was probably suffering. It was his mother who published this posthumously.

      • Just another guy from nowhere

        What the....... are you talking about???

  • MandoZink

    In this day and age we easily recognize this type of condition. A couple thousand years ago it was not seen as an illness. People like these were considered prophetic and visionary. In biblical times they were messengers from God. Unrecognized as such, a lengthy succession of delusions have molded the foundations of religious beliefs that have been passed down as truth. It's no accident that irrational threats of unseen forces operating from supernatural realms dominate the core of these dogmas.

    • maybeperfect

      If we choose to be honest with ourselves we must admit that there is that realm of possibility which gives place to the notion that we really have no absolute frame of reference proving that our world has NOT been created exclusively for us. Belief in an infinite God implies that the possibility exists. It may be that we co-create our life situation through multi-dimensional self manifestation, or any number of different paradigms. What seems to happen is that most folks partition these understandings while subscribing to what seems to be the politically correct mode of being, since that seems to eliminate difficulties in their day to day lives.

      Society's judgement about a person's sanity seems to be predicated on how thoroughly the norm is adhered to.

      There's really no evidence that this is necessarily the correct explanation for one's worldview, it just seems to make things go more smoothly.
      If God truly is infinite it is within his power to create these myriad existences. Who are we to say that it can not be so. Any entity may only be accepting the reality that their aspect of God teaches them to believe in. If every vibration making them what they are is really in some way God, (whether we seem to know whether it is or not) they may have no choice but to seem to believe as they do. in fact it may really be that these are ways in which God believes in Himself(or not.)

      Gratitude may be helpful, after all, it seems none deserve existence, unless by virtue of their Godhood of whatever nature.
      Any honest intellect must admit that they may not know whatever they seem to know. If there is a God, He seems likely to be the arbiter of it all, perhaps being the only one to truly KNOW anything whatsoever.
      Any human or other being can understand this principle, regardless of their spiritual or mental level. Give it a try. I dare you.

      Once this concept is grokked, one ceases to partake of the fruit of the tree of knowledge of good and evil. Perhaps a way to get ourselves back to The Garden.

      • MandoZink

        " --- If we choose to be honest with ourselves we must admit that there is that realm of possibility which gives place to the notion that we really have no absolute frame of reference proving that our world has NOT been created exclusively for us. --- "

        It is hard to know what to say about the fact that you imagine this to be the case. Quite simply it is an uninformed belief and wishful thinking. There is quite a bit of knowledge we've learned about our universe to which you have obviously not been exposed. There currently exists an incredible preponderance of evidence that this world not only has NOT been created exclusively for us, but that were statistically lucky to have even evolved here. The odds are tremendous that life would evolve billions of times around one of the 10,000,000,000,000,000,000,000 stars that we know exist in the known universe. To think that we're special and that it was all done for us is a truly naive notion, but probably comforting nonetheless. What we have found proves otherwise.

        • AirLoomOperator#9

          How bout you both go take 3 to 5 grams of psilocybe mushrooms... then have this conversation again.

        • Dave

          I'm not sure if 'drugs' expand the mind, I've had a particularly horrible time with it's legal counterparts, so can't really recommend their use, however I'm pretty sure if you ever have an out of body experience or a NDE you might have to concede the fact to yourself that you have a soul, and I'm not sure soul's can be created through luck.

          • Neville houchin

            Hi Dave, regarding NDE I'd highly recommend looking up the experiments performed by Dr. James Winnery's for the US Army & Navy using a G-LOC centrifuge. He did experiments on pilots for 16 years, some of the results were very interesting & may shed some light on the true origin of NDE's.

  • Ignatius

    AS IF: MODERN ENCHANTMENT AND THE LITERARY PREHISTORY OF VIRTUAL REALITY, a recent history of the cultural embrace of the virtual over the past two centuries, suggests that the distinction between the "real" and the "virtual" is actually reinforced, rather than reduced, by our cultural turn to information technologies and social media. The assertion of this essay that "We cannot reliably distinguish the real from the fake, or the private from the public" is often made, but history tells a different story.

  • Cameron Bowden

    Without getting to deep into the psychiatric reasons (which no one knows) all this article says to me is that people with delusions act delusional. It's great for the author to make a quick buck (irresponsible, but when has that ever stopped the medical community?) but like most non organic neurological disorders they don't know a damned thing.

    • Oli Delgaram-Nejad

      Look out for an eBook titled Fought Disorder in a few months.

  • Dennis Goos

    This article seems to illuminate the strife that is constant in the world. I read it as an expose of the theme that, "Jews Control the World". Can there be any better reason for putting fact before belief than destructive delusions?

    • lobo

      so israel isnt destroying the world. you are the one who is delusional.

      • hp b

        Who said anything about Israel?

  • Alex

    Deckard is not revealed to be an android at the end of Dick's book. The line is purposefully blurred, but he's decisively human.

  • John Green

    Very interesting article. Thank you very much.

    These interpretations of psychic/psychotic phenomena are nothing new, as some of the other commenters have alluded to. In his 1976 book The Origin of Consciousness in the Breakdown of the Bicameral Mind, Julian Jaynes posited that the unified consciousness that we take for granted today only came into existence at the time of the so-called Axial Civilizations, which also witnessed the rise of monotheistic religions. An examination of texts from the period before those civilizations - The Iliad, Odyssey, and the like - reveal that psychic experiences were understood not as being caused by the subject's own agency (i.e. as self-willed and autonomous) but as externally caused. Thus, heroes are driven not by anger or jealousy of their own contrivance but by emotions deliberately introduced into their bodies by deities or other external beings. Jaynes argues that even the voices we take as our own, "in our head," were not experienced as such by the ancients but were interpreted as coming from outside, making it possible to understand why ancient civilizations believed that statues were not "representations" of Gods but the Gods incarnate, capable of speaking directly to worshipers. The "voices of God" heard by the prophets and biblical characters - Moses, Isaac, Isaiah - were less to do with psychoses (although I'm convinced that ergotism explains hallucinations like burning bushes) than to do with how psychic experiences were framed and understood.

  • Afshin Nejat

    The bottom line of this article, is that it wants to debunk the ideas of certain people, using ad hominem.

  • Travis

    Actually, anyone who does not have a Biblical worldview is radically deceived about reality. It is not surprising that many people would have bizarre delusions in trying to understand life. If you are questioning things, first, don't do anything "crazy", God is in control; He is good; and He loves you; then prayerfully read through the New Testament. It will tell you about God's purpose for the world.

    • Bryan Richards

      The bible is a delusional worldview. It is founded on many baseless assumptions never proven true. The idea of a god is merely one from ignorance or to fill in the gaps of knowledge.

      Anyone that doesn't have this view you espouse tends to be one of a few things. Studies show that 1) Higher IQ individuals believe less rigorously or not at all much more often than lower IQ counterparts and 2) Education also correlates to less belief and 3) People are more likely to see patterns that do not exist under stress as well as express more religious beliefs.

      Religion is cured by logic, education, intelligence, and the ability to correctly identify patterns that actually exist.

      • Travis

        Hi Bryan,
        Thanks for taking the time to respond to my comment. I guess I am an exception. You may not believe me, but I a have a fairly high IQ and an advanced degree. Nevertheless, you are probably basically right. One reason is that pride and human wisdom tend to make people unreceptive to divine truth. The Bible itself teaches in 1 Corinthians that, "God has chosen the foolish things of the world to put to shame the wise, and God has chosen the weak things of the world to put to shame the things which are mighty; and the base things of the world and the things which are despised God has chosen, and the things which are not, to bring to nothing the things that are, that no flesh should glory in His presence." So I am not ashamed to be identified with my brothers and sisters who may not have spent many years in school or score well on IQ tests, but who are willing to trust and love God.

        • Bryan Richards

          The problem is you trust and love without evidence. I cannot think of a good reason to believe without evidence ( even though I used to just a few years ago).

          I actually suggest that you delve into the reasons why you believe. Sincerely question what you have been taught. People of your claimed IQ ( assuming it is quite high as you state) don't retain belief when this happens.

          I honestly probably won't be able to go back to believing given what I know anymore. I understand the mental and physical mechanisms that comprise and cause religious belief. The fact that you believe in a higher power merely means ( to me) that your temporal lobe is likely more active than mine.

          • Travis

            Hi Bryan,
            Actually I came to a sincere belief in Jesus Christ as ths Son of God as an adult.I would not have accepted this belief without what I thought was good evidence which came from several different places. There are many accounts of seemingly intelligent people who began to investigate the scriptures in order to disprove them but through their study came to a faith in Christ themselves.
            Regarding brain activity, I understand that the occipital lobe is essential to visual perception. I do not for that reason discount everything I think I see as a pure illusion. It may be the case that the temporal lobes of religious people shows more activity that those of the non-religious, but this has basically no relevance to whether the teachings of the Bible are true or not.
            Thank you for taking the time to share your thoughts, by the way.

          • Bryan Richards

            Actually I've read many of those christian converts accounts, and they usually lack some very basic critical thinking skills. It would seem that their poor ability to evaluate evidence is what let them believe in the first place. Lee Strobel is the epitome of what I have just described.

            I didn't say occipital lobe, I said temporal lobe and mentioned nothing of hallucinations... you can assert that the temporal lobe isn't relevant, but it is the root cause for belief and predisposition for it in the first place.

            In fact ellen g white likely suffered from temporal lobe seizures, which gave her religious visions. Experiments are being done on this lobe that give the users a feeling of a disembodied presence.

            Basically everything claimed by religion has evidence of residing in the brain and very few of the claims have ever been shown to be factual outside of the human brain.

            You are worshipping a construct of faulty human thinking that is inside your head.

          • Travis

            Hi Bryan,

            I think you may not have entirely understood the point I was trying to make. The reason I mentioned vision and the occipital lobe was to point out that there being a relation between brain activity and certain experiences or beliefs on the face of it says nothing about the truth or reality of what is believed or experienced. It would in a way be surprising if the new birth or a spiritual experience had no relation to brain states.

            Which claims of supernatural activity do you think have been shown to be factual outside of the human brain? Wouldn't one well documented event inexplicable by a naturalist worldview be evidence for the supernatural? Actually I would say there are probably many such events that have occurred.

            I also have a couple of questions for you as a naturalist (I am assuming): 1. How do you explain the intricate design found in living systems and in the laws of physics? 2. Does it bother you very much that in your belief all life and consciousness will probably cease to exist in a few (or several) billion years?


          • Bryan Richards

            "Wouldn't one well documented event inexplicable by a naturalist worldview be evidence for the supernatural?"

            No, that is an argument from ignorance fallacy and a very poor reason to believe in anything. Every magic/supernatural explanation has ended up not being so.

            1. Physical systems follow laws, you are experiencing apophenia or are implying agency. Things well understood to either be false or reside solely within the brain.

            2. It doesn't matter how much it bothers me, my likes or dislikes do not dictate reality or truth. This is a profoundly weak argument.

          • Travis

            Hi Bryan,
            Thank you for your replies. I have been distracted by other business for the past few days, but want to give a brief response.
            1. Physical systems SEEM to follow mathematical laws, based on most recorded measurements. However, the question is why do we observe this regularity and who (or what) determined the laws that physical systems would follow.
            2. If you are bothered by the thought of your own death or of the heat death of the entire universe, perhaps you would be interested in pursuing the good evidence that there is a creator God Who can give people eternal life and Who will create a new heavens and a new Earth. Many people profess to be wise and miss out on the blessing of this knowledge.

          • Bryan Richards

            "why do we observe this regularity and who (or what) determined the laws that physical systems would follow."

            You are running headlong into the anthropic principle. Otherwise you'd understand why this argument doesn't work on people that need evidence like myself.

            "If you are bothered by the thought of your own death or of the heat death of the entire universe, perhaps you would be interested in pursuing the good evidence that there is a creator God Who can give people eternal life and Who will create a new heavens and a new Earth. Many people profess to be wise and miss out on the blessing of this knowledge."

            Any bother I may have with an idea does not affect its truth. There isn't good evidence for a creator or a god. Unless you happen to have something new, which I doubt very much.

            You are preying on what you perceive to be an insecurity. This is low for any person of faith and you should be ashamed of your behavior. This is insulting in ways you probably aren't even able to perceive and is wholly worthy of a fuck you followed by ending the conversation.

          • Travis

            Well thank you for your time anyway. I wish you the best.

          • Bryan Richards

            I honestly wish believers understood logic and applied it and other critical thinking skills to their own beliefs rather than merely attempt to recruit anyone that has a weakness or they think needs saving. It is a practice that is very poor in taste and of low moral caliber.

          • Travis

            Hi Bryan,
            If you do wish to continue the conversation, I will try to defend myself a little.
            I'd like to think I have some understanding of logic, but I do not need to address that. I was not trying to "prey" on an insecurity particular to you. Rather, as mortal humans we all have a weakness and an insecurity. This is that we will die. There is nothing wrong with being concerned about this. In fact, it is quite logical. As a Christian, I do not want to manipulate anyone to accept something against their will - it would be pointless. However, I do want to persuade people to consider and accept the lordship of Christ. This is because I believe it will be a blessing to them and that they will suffer loss if they do not eventually turn to Him.
            Speaking of existentialism: I've heard that Jean Paul Sartre began to seek God when he was near death, but his mistress insisted that he was merely senile. I once made a good start on reading "Being and Nothingness" and quite enjoyed the "Myth of Sisyphus", but I think it is a genuine mistake to think that a person can create their own meaning.

        • Bryan Richards

          I do find it funny that you try to quote the bible to prove your biblical position as correct. You are likely aware that that is circular reasoning and unconvincing to rational people.

        • joymars

          Then why, dear Travis, are so many bat-sh*t insane people thoroughly knowledgeable about the Bible, and can quote it as cogently as you can?

    • Stella

      What a load of bollocks. Not even worth the time it's taken me to write this response.

  • Dave

    Thanks for that, food for thought.

  • jim young

    I've no grand pronouncements concerning this article which I found to be quite interesting but I will point out two modest observations:

    1. You mentioned William GIbson. You used a phrase toward the end of the article which Gibson chose as a title for one of his books: "Pattern Recognition."

    2. You did not mention "The Wizard of Oz".

  • joymars

    Carl Jung understood that the collective unconscious was a very pressing influence on us all -- "sane" or not.

  • J G
  • Shibes_Meadow

    The current power elite began the endgame of its 500-year Enlightement project about one hundred years ago. The coming of the Great War was the beginning of the end of Western civilization: the final solution for Christendom. With the four great Christian empires destroyed, the next step was the destruction of capitalism, which destruction was called the Great Depression, followed by the takedown of ethnic and racial solidarity in World War II. The wreck of the nuclear family was triggered by the rise of Rosie the Riveter; the advent of feminism, legal contraception, and easy divorce meant curtains for the family. Stripped of Church, race, nation, market, and family, Western man was left with no loyalty but to his own senses. This was manifested in the rise of rock and roll and the drug culture, which led to the collapse of the social order in the West.

    The shots fired in Dealey Plaza were the starting gun of the final phase, during which loyalty to self became treasonous.From 1963 on, it was no longer enough to live for onself. From then on, one had to belong to the Movement. "If you;re not part of the solution, you're part of the problem."

    The early 1960s passed into history, and with it the Piscean age of the Fish, the icthus. Now began the age of man, the demigod who could carry his own water: the Age of Aquarius. Now the power elite rolled out the first iteration of the global superstate. Its mission: to take the place of Church, race, nation, market and family. God was dead; the Earth (as defined by the power elite) became the new deity of Western man. Racial loyalty for white people became the ultimate sin, a slap in the face of Saint Reverend Doctor Martin Luther King Junior, pbuh, who died for white America's sins. Humanity was all one race now -- or so the power elite told us. Nations? Just lines on maps, man. It's a small world after all.One world or none! Markets? Just another way Whitey keep the poor man down. the power elite would act to feed the children who don't have enough to eat, shoe the children with no shoes on their feet, house the people livin' in the street. Oh, there's a solution: the welfare state.

    And the family? There is no such thing. A family is nothing but whatever the power elite happens to be pointing at when you say the word "family". Besides, mom and dad are getting divorced. They're not in love any more. And love is just chemicals in your brain anyway. Have a pill.

    And so here we are, on the threshold of Utopia. The power elite has saved us from the ruin of Western, Christian civilization -- a ruin they themselves made -- and set us on the parapet of their Earthly paradise, ordem ab chao. We ought to be happy.

    But with each step along the road to the immanentization of the Eschaton, we have grown more miserable, less human. Why?

    Because deep in our hearts we know it's all fake..We know the brick and stone tower to heaven that the modern Nimrod has built, the false unity he has forged, is a lie. Deep down, we long for the real God, the real family, the real nations and races and markets we once knew.

    But we can't admit it. Oh no. Our friends on Facebook would Unlike us. We dare not admit that this glorious New Order of the Ages is a pyramid built on sand, and the Light we desire above all is generated by the burning blood of children in the belly of Moloch. If we were to do that, we'd have to bow down to someone -- to our neighbors, to some priest, to a king, to God.

    And we can't have that. The power elite will have no other gods before itself. Stray from the fold and you lose your friends, your job, your precious self-esteem. Go back to the old God and sooner or later the men in black helmets come crashing through the door of your "compound".

    And so we go on day to day, pretending that evil is good, death is life, lies are truth, until we are mad, tranqilized, drugged up, or dead.

  • Russell

    As a young child, I used to think the whole world was a set-up just for me. It's not a bad way of explaining how implausibly stupid the world of the middle class West is. Years later I read Fromm and Shepard (and Douglas Adams) and learned I wasn't the only one who thought society had gone insane...

  • Skanik

    I think we all try to make sense of the world - some of us have the power to project an image of ourselves that is not true but is convincing to others - so Politicians/Movie Stars/Rock Stars that believe their own hype too much.

    If you consider Lenin/Stalin/Hitler/Mao/Pol Pot/Idi notice they have very little self-doubt and are sure they understand the World Order better than anyone else.

    As for technology - I can remember working with people suffering from severe psychological disorders and how a larger percentage thought, the then new, cell phones were related to all their troubles.

    Imagine you are in the throes of psychosis. People avoid you, you lose your job, your friends...try as hard as you might you are unable to change your situation - sadly you do not know you are in a psychotic state so you have to try to figure out why everything has gone badly for you...THEY are out to get you and THEY will use whatever means they can to frustrate you - so why shouldn't THEY choose the latest technology
    to achieve THEIR ends - after all if they could have done it with Radio waves they would have brought you down years ago - but now they have Cell Phones - Internet...

    What would happen if - as an experiment - everyone agreed with you that the Government was using cell phones to bring you/us down - would you calm down or see that agreement as an even more devious plot ?

    Do we seek out groups that strongly/enthusiastically agree with us because our own mental states may be precarious enough that we seek what we believe to be a safe harbor in the terrible storm that is Life ?

    Thinking back it is amazing how little self-doubt people in power have and how little it bothers them - it is as if they arrived at the right spot at the right time with just the right idea and the public/business wanted to believe what they had to say without any critical analysis and so they just kept rising higher and higher in the power structure even though what the believe beyond all doubt is just not the case - then national/world tragedy follows.

  • Buge

    "like Jim Carrey’s Truman Burbank, genuinely has stumbled onto a
    carefully orchestrated secret of which those around him are blandly

    No one around Truman was unaware. They were all hired actors working on the secret.

  • d1onys0s

    Get with it and read your Beuadrillard. It's all there, folks!!

  • Ingolf Stern

    Or, the author is completely and totally WRONG:

    Read - if you dare.

  • Proust

    It was nice reading this article. Even if this article's writer is the only other person out there who is this intuitive about our modern world, it still gives me reassurance as to the competence of human intelligence. Sorry if that sounds narcissistic; I've suffered from psychosis similar to the incidences described in the article and it was actually a very enlightening adventure.



  • Heinz Schutzbach

    Interessanter Artikel, ein Beitrag auch zur Kulturanthropologie und Kulturgeschichte.
    In meiner klinischen Arbeit ist mir die Nähe des Wahns zu den Geheimnissen der Natur und Glaubensströmungen der Gegenwart und der Vergangenheit oftmals aufgefallen. Gerade neue Erkenntnisse aus Wissenschaft, Politik und Religion finden gerne Eingang in die Gedanken- und Gefühlswelt der Psychose.
    Von der Ausgestaltung der Wahninhalte und Wahnsysteme liesse sich wohl viel lernen über mentale Gewissheiten und Volksmythen zu verschiedenen Zeiten und Epochen wie auch über die Verbreitung von "Meme" und die "Virologie" von Wahnphänomenen.
    Der umgekehrte Schluss (ebenfalls ein Volksglaube), nämlich dass an Schizophrenie Erkrankte Heilige und Propheten seien, die verborgene Geheimnisse und die Zukunft wahrsagen können, ist aber immer noch falsch und gehört in die banalen Abgründe Hollywoods und der Märchenerzähler: in der Regel sind Wahngewissheiten und Wahnwahrnehmungen - zum grossen Leid der Kranken - Ausdruck einer fehlgeleiteten Informationsverarbeitung. Letztlich sind sie keine Auserwählten in einem höheren Plan Gottes, auch von Marsmenschen wurden sie nie abgeholt, und der NSA oder die russische Mafia haben sich nie besonders für sie interessiert.
    Hier täten wir besser daran zu helfen, die Stigmatisierung und Ausgrenzung der psychisch Kranken zu überwinden und sie einer angemessenen Behandlung zu zu führen.

  • Oli Delgaram-Nejad

    As someone who experienced this exact delusion for around seven weeks last year, I just want to take the time to thank the author for offering one of the most engaging and captivating reads I've enjoyed in a long time.